12 January 2015

No laughing matter

British comedian Jon Richardson is well known for his perfectionist and compulsive behaviours, which have previously made him the butt of jokes by fellow panel members on comedy quiz shows such as 8 out of 10 Cats and Mock the Week.

Inevitably, they tended to bandy the term OCD about, but he didn't appear to see himself as having the disorder. While his comment 'It's not OCD, it's just the right way of doing things' might have been made for comedic effect, it seemed that he genuinely believed it.

Image courtesy of Pixomar/
This was apparently borne out by a documentary he presented, in 2012, about the condition. He met a number of people with extreme obsessions and compulsions, in the face of which he demonstrated great understanding, compassion and sensitivity. In the course of the filming, he was professionally assessed and it was concluded that he was not a sufferer himself. I was surprised by this - as, I'm sure were many other viewers - as it was apparent from what he had revealed that his behaviours severely restricted his life.

For example, at the time he was sharing a house with friends, and he refused to let the camera crew film his bedroom, even from the door. That was his sanctuary and he couldn't tolerate the intrusion, albeit one that wasn't even physical.

He shared one anecdote that was particularly telling. His flatmates knew that he liked spoons to be stored in a particular way, so, for a joke, they scattered them around the house instead. This upset him so much that he elected to sleep in his car, rather than stay under the same roof as the now disordered cutlery.

Nevertheless, Jon professed to take pleasure in ordering things in this way, which is no doubt why the expert's verdict was that he didn't have OCD: for that diagnosis, behaviours have to be unwanted and to cause distress.

By the end of the programme, I was quite concerned for him. He claimed to enjoy what he did, and maintained that his compulsions didn't control him, but would there come a day when he didn't, and they did? I hoped he wouldn't look back, 10 years on, and realise how much of his life he had wasted because of them.

So I was relieved to observe a change of attitude in recent interviews: Jon now talks of actually having OCD, although he says he has it under control, apart from the odd flare-up. 

He also refers to it starting when he was a teenager, which makes me wonder about the truth of his status when he presented that documentary. Perhaps he was unwittingly deceiving himself as to how comfortable he was with his compulsions? - and, therefore, inadvertently misled the person who assessed him. He has admitted in one interview that the programme was 'the best piece of therapy I've ever had', so it obviously proved to be a turning point.

It's clear from what I've read elsewhere that he has a real understanding of what having OCD means and how serious it can be, and I hope he'll continue to raise awareness in this way. Mental health conditions need all the well-informed, high profile support they can get.


Anonymous said...

Informative post, Helen. I'm not familiar with Jon, but I find it interesting that you could see he had OCD, even though the experts couldn't. Unsettling to say the least, and I'm sure misdiagnosis, and lack of diagnosis, happens a lot more than most of us realize.

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks, ocdtalk. I wouldn't like to claim to know more than a mental health expert, but I do wonder whether sufferers have a different kind of insight, which no professional (without personal experience of the condition) can ever have?